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CRIME

‘The recovery fund is in their sights’: Europol warns of Italian mafia profiting from crisis across EU

Europe's €750 billion recovery fund aimed at helping countries re-emerge from the coronavirus crisis is a mafia target, police chiefs said at a meeting in Rome on Tuesday, as organised crime groups continue to profit from the crisis.

'The recovery fund is in their sights': Europol warns of Italian mafia profiting from crisis across EU
File photo showing anti-mafia police walking through Palermo, Sicily. Photo: AFP/DIA

READ ALSO: How the EU agreed its €750 billion rescue plan to save shattered economies

An “increase in infiltration into the economy” by criminal organisations is already being recorded at a European level. For this reason it is essential that EU countries understand that the mafias have staked a claim on the funds allocated to overcome the crisis,” said Catherine De Bolle, the executive director of Europol, at the meeting of European police chiefs in Rome.

The summit was called to take stock of criminal threats connected to the pandemic.

“The increase in infiltration is the reason why Europol is asked to carefully monitor loans” connected to the recovery fund, De Bolle said according to Italian media reports.

“Funds set up by the member states are already being targeted by criminal organisations and we expect they will be even more so (in future),” she added.

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During the crisis organised crime groups have already been preying on the public, as well as private companies and health authorities in many countries, she explained.

“Highly sought-after products, such as disinfectants, face masks, thermometers, mechanical ventilators and phantom cures for coronavirus continue to be the subject of far-reaching scams online,” she said.

“A more sophisticated modus operandi sees criminals seizing corporate identities and offering victims the sale of products linked to the pandemic, only to disappear into thin air.”

Europol and Italy's police chiefs have repeatedly warned in recent years that Italian mafia groups are increasingly expanding their operations across Europe, and worldwide.

International anti-mafia stings may have become more frequent, but organized crime groups originating in Italy constitute a social and economic “cancer” that many other coutries seem to underestimate, experts have said.

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Vittorio Rizzi, italy's deputy police chief, warned at the summit on Tuesday that all European countries run the risk of discovering mafia infiltration “too late”, when “the damage to the real economy becomes irreparable.”

In Italy, “if there have been infiltrations already we are not fully aware of it. But to think that there are countries or economic systems immune to the risk of infiltration would be a very serious mistake,” Rizzi warned.

“Just as no country has been immune to Covid-19, no one will be from criminal organizations, which have been part of the European and world fabric for many years,” he sadded.

“The pervasiveness of the virus is in fact the same as that of the mafias,” he added, warning that mafia groups stand ready to profit from the crisis as “in times of economic recession liquidity is needed, and whoever has available money conquers the market.”

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EUROPEAN UNION

France, Germany, Spain and Italy to sidestep Hungary on global tax plan

Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands said Friday they would implement an international minimum tax on big corporations, sidestepping Hungary's opposition to an EU-wide plan.

France, Germany, Spain and Italy to sidestep Hungary on global tax plan

The decision by the top European economies effectively ends months of effort to implement the tax jointly across all 27 member states.

The 15-percent minimum tax was one of two pillars of a major international agreement decided at the OECD and signed by more than 130 countries, including Hungary and the United States.

“Should unanimity not be reached in the next weeks, our governments are fully determined to follow through on our commitment,” the countries said in a joint statement.

“We stand ready to implement the global minimum effective taxation in 2023 and by any possible legal means,” the countries added.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who initiated the joint text, said that “tax justice must be a priority for the European Union”.

“We will put in place minimum taxation from 2023, either through the European route or through the national route,” said Le Maire.

Christian Lindner, his German counterpart, said Germany will “if necessary” adopt the tax “independently of an agreement at the European level”.

The EU’s original ambition was that the 27-member bloc would be the first jurisdiction to implement the OECD-brokered agreement. The bloc-wide plan needed the vote of all EU countries in order to pass.

The resistance by Hungary came as the relationship with its EU partners remained fraught, with Budapest along with Warsaw seen as steering away from the bloc’s democratic values.

The Hungarian veto of the minimum tax is seen by many in Brussels as a means of pressure to obtain the release of seven billion euros ($7.3 billion) in grants planned under the European pandemic recovery plan.

Poland’s acceptance of the minimum tax came after Brussels accepted Warsaw’s recovery plan, which should see it receive 36 billion euros in grants and loans over the next several years.

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